Uber worker status case heard at EAT

James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock
James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock

Uber appears at the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) today to appeal last year’s decision on the employment status of its drivers.

In October 2016, an employment tribunal ruled that Uber drivers were workers rather than self-employed, meaning they were entitled to be paid the minimum wage, and to receive annual leave and statutory sick pay.

If Uber is not an employer, how can it adequately manage its drivers and so comply with the rules and standards set down by the licensing authorities whilst at the same time maintaining that its drivers are genuinely self-employed? Uber wants to have its cake and eat it” – Paul Kelly, Blacks

The decision marked the first of several cases on employment status in the gig economy, including cases against CitySprint and Deliveroo.

Although the facts differed based on the arrangements of the various companies, employment tribunals and higher courts have found that the claimants were workers rather than self-employed.

The Supreme Court last month granted Pimlico Plumbers permission to appeal against February’s Court of Appeal decision that a plumber who signed an agreement with the company describing him as self-employed was in fact a worker.

Today’s case follows the decision by Transport for London last week not to renew Uber’s licence to operate in the capital. TfL said Uber was not a “fit and proper” private car hire operator because of its poor approach to reporting criminal offences and carrying out background checks on drivers.

While its tribunal case is being appealed, Uber does not yet have to apply the decision to its drivers in the UK.

Paul Kelly, employment partner at Blacks Solicitors said:  “Uber’s claim that it is not an employer controlling and directing employees, but rather a platform to connect drivers with passengers, has sparked substantial litigation over the years.

“But it is one of the main factors in its success – it allows flexibility and low overheads in a market dominated by black cabs. However, Uber operates in a regulated market that requires licensing, if for no other reason than to ensure public safety.”

Uber has faced the same problem in other cities, such as in Austin, Texas, where issues relating to background checks led to a halt in Uber’s operations.

“So here is the problem,” said Kelly. “If Uber is not an employer, how can it adequately manage its drivers and so comply with the rules and standards set down by the licensing authorities whilst at the same time maintaining that its drivers are genuinely self-employed? Uber wants to have its cake and eat it.”

The EAT hearing has been scheduled for two days.

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